“Curiosity in children is but an appetite for knowledge. The great reason why children abandon themselves wholly to silly pursuits and trifle away their time insipidly is, because they find their curiosity balked, and their inquiries neglected,” wrote John Locke.
As parents and educators who deal with children constantly, we know full well that children are utterly curious creatures. It is by exploring, questioning, and wondering, that they learn. So, how do we foster a child’s inherent tendency to discover and learn through cause and effect, and allow learning to occur unhampered?
Fear, disapproval and absence – these are the extinguishers of a child’s natural curiosity. A child whose world is in disarray will cling to his comfort zone and shun novelty. Constant “don’ts” also snuff out curiosity, as children absorb the same fears and attitudes of their caregivers. The absence of a caring adult also extinguishes a child’s sense of wonder, as the child lacks the sense of safety necessary to fuel his sense of discovery; the lack of a person to share the discovery with also subdues the pleasure and reinforcement from that finding.
Both parents and teachers play a key role in encouraging this curiosity-fuelled learning. As adults, we must provide opportunities for children to explore, play and apply.
Play – that word that is often misconstrued by those who don’t know better, as a waste of time! – pays huge dividends in a child’s education. For a child, play is natural, spontaneous, enjoyable, rewarding and self-initiated. Even play that is engaged in not for its learning outcomes, promotes growth and development. Whether Functional Play which sees children using their senses and muscles to explore and experiment with materials and learn how things go together, or Constructive Play in which children learn the use of different materials, put things together based on a plan, and develop and use strategies of reaching their goal, there is no underestimating the value of play.
Dramatic or Pretend Play allows children to take on a role, and use words and gestures to depict the role they are playing, while Games with Rules help children learn to play with others, control their behaviour and conform to a structure of pre-set rules. And at the end of it, it is the co-operating and collaborating in which lies the enjoyment.
It’s time we treated play with the respect and gravitas it deserves. Child’s play is serious stuff!